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“A figment of his imagination.” This is how Life Sport programme director Cornelius Prince yesterday described National Security Minister Gary Griffith’s allegations that there was misappropriation of funds under the Sport Ministry-controlled programme. Griffith also alleged the programme was fraught with criminals. On Saturday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the programme would be reassigned to the National Security Ministry and be put under the management of the Defence Force. Prince, who yesterday rallied his “Life Sport troops” (participants) at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva, for a media conference, fired back at the minister and declared that the programme was above board and openly welcomed any “independent” probe into its operations.
Prince, in describing Griffith’s allegations as “scandalous” and “unfounded,” said an investigation should be done by “any official investigative or auditing body that has not yet formulated any conclusions, real or imagined.” Griffith was quoted over the weekend in an Express article alleging several improprieties under the programme, including the payment of some $18 million to Life Sport Carapo co-ordinator Rajaee Ali, a Jamaat-al-Muslimeen member. But Prince said the figures quoted in the article were based on a flawed supposition that one organisation could be paid an “astronomical, mind-boggling” sum of $1.5 million monthly, totalling $18 million annually. “This is a figment of the Honourable National Security Minister’s imagination and disseminated by a media house who clearly replaced journalistic integrity with bacchanalia designs,” he said.
Prince said had he been contacted to respond to the minister’s allegations, he would have “debunked this dangerous myth.” He said co-ordinators receive $30,000 monthly, from which they paid their staff and themselves, which, he said, left them with $13,000 to $17,000 a month for their efforts, such as managing staff, ensuring participant attendance and identifying and implementing community projects. Prince also took issue with Griffith’s allegation that there were ghost participants in the programme. “Where are the ghosts? These are the ghosts,” he declared, pointing to the near-packed covered section of the stadium. That elicited cheers from the young men, all of whom began to chant: “Tell them no ghosts, no ghosts, no ghosts.”
Prince said the programme was ”not fuelling crime but keeping it down.” He said it was aimed at at-risk youths and gave them an opportunity to make better use of their lives.
He said over 21,000 youths were part of the programme which operated in communities from Bagatelle to Siparia and had 40 co-ordinators.
Yesterday, Life Sport co-ordinators and former national football players Angus Eve, Wesley Webb and Anthony Roget also came out in support of the programme, which they said was making a difference. Roget, co-ordinator for La Brea, sounded a warning to the authorities should they be considering closing the programme. “Every individual here has to make sure the programme goes on. Rest assured that they are not going to cancel it but if they cancel this programme it will have an uproar in this country. I assure you we will do that,” Roget declared. He said a lot of people believed in the programme which had been changing the lives of young men. Participants, he said, were paid a stipend of $1,500 a month, given two meals and have to participate in programmes that would help them change their path in life. Eve said the job was simple but difficult. Sport Minister Anil Roberts, who was on hand for the topping-off ceremony of the National Velodrome Project, Couva, yesterday welcomed the Life Sport programme being moved to National Security,” he added.